Welcome back to the NBA Fan Confidence Rankings! These rankings are like the podcast Serial, you should really enjoy them in order. If you missed Part One, click here!
In Part One of this series, I said that like a good suit I would do these Fan Confidence Rankings through three separate pieces. I lied, but not blatantly – I’m no Volkswagen engineer. The NBA has a lot of teams and we have varying attention spans, so I am issuing an executive order and making this series four parts.
As a quick refresher, here are the Six Degrees of Fan Confidence I laid out in Part One. Today, I’ll be focusing exclusively on teams in Degree #3.
- Team Apocalypse
- Team Do Not Renew the Season Tickets
- Team At Least We’ve Got This One Thing
- Team Future
- Team Only A Couple Moves Away
- Team Contender
Degree #3: Team At Least We’ve Got This One Thing
Symptoms: Fandom of these teams parallel California’s current water situation: not great, but at least we have this one El Nino thing! Or, if you want to visualize these teams in terms of literature, imagine the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock in The Great Gatsby. To Gatsby, the green light represents his hope of being reunited with Daisy. Like Gatsby, these fans can see the future. They can visualize it. Dream about it even. Yet, it remains distant. Will these teams fail like Gatsby, or will they use that special one thing to reach the green light? Welcome to Degree #3.
Los Angeles Lakers: 8 Wins – 28 Losses
Scouting Report: The Lakers’ entire organization warrants questioning. What is their identity? What is their goal? Is their coach legitimately trying to lose games? Yet, amidst the darkness, there are positives: They are on pace to retain their draft pick this season and enter the Ben Simmons sweepstakes. The last two drafts have not been busts because D’Angelo Russell appears to have real court vision, Julius Randle has possibilities as a more mobile Zach Randolph and Jordan Clarkson has likely been their best player this season. Finally, they are still in LA. As our increasingly connected society makes “big markets” less important, LA remains the city seemingly every NBA player trains in during the off-season. LA as a destination still matters, somewhat.
TV Viewing Tip: The Lakers might be the league’s most watchable awful team. There are first round draft picks sulking on the bench as guys with names like Metta World Peace play ahead of them. You can watch head coach Byron Scott, who is like your grandpa at Christmas dinner who is not allowed to say anything because everything he says is 20 years behind current thought. Finally, they have Kobe shooting 26% from three, and here is the catch…he is shooting 7.3 of these threes per game! Do not resist the absurdity that is the Lakers- embrace it.
Big Question: If D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle don’t all pan out, what happens next? While they might tank their way to a top three pick this year, the Lakers have traded two other first and second rounders. Those three guys are their future. They have to be good.
Memphis Grizzlies: 19 Wins – 18 Losses
Scouting Report: The Grizzlies are the definition of winning without contending for a title. In a league of shooting and wing play, they do not have any real shooters and their best wing is Courtney Lee. The thing is, these problems are not new. This has been the story of the Grizzlies for half a decade. If they truly want to contend and not merely produce slightly above average teams, things need to change. Look for possible trades here.
TV Viewing Tip: Footwork is the most underrated part of offensive post-ups. If you are a young player hoping to improve your post game, watch the low post footwork of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Jab steps, ball fakes, drop steps, these guys have it all.
Big Question: Will the front office shake up a team that has won enough to bring in steady home crowds (and steady gate revenues), but will not contend for a title?
New York Knicks: 18 Wins – 19 Losses
Scouting Report: Remember the phrase “stretch four” describing a power forward who could stretch a defense with outside shooting? Welcome Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks 7’3” Latvian rookie who is revitalizing the idea of a stretch five. Porzingis’ value cannot be understated. On defense he can defend the rim and switch on to guards when defending pick and rolls. On offense he has a real jump shot and crafty footwork. Also, he is 7’3”. There is no better example of fans holding on to one thing than Knicks fans with Porzingis.
TV Viewing Tip: As you revel in Porzingis’ greatness, attempt to come up with a nickname for him. So far, we’ve got “The Zinger” and “The Latvian Gangbanger” but we can do better. [Editor’s note: 3 6 Latvia and Worldstar are two KP nicknames I enjoy – DL]
Big Question: Will the Knicks abandon Phil Jackson’s beloved triangle offense? The triangle is based on low post scoring and mid-range jumpers. Considering that Porzingis is more of a stretch player than a low post player and mid-range jumpers are the NBA’s least efficient shot, the Knicks should consider evolving.
Dallas Mavericks: 21 Wins – 15 Losses & Charlotte Hornets: 17 Wins – 18 Losses
Scouting Report: The Mavs and Hornets are the definition of the whole exceeding the sum of the parts. The Mavs roster is full of players coming off injuries, league cast-offs, late first round draft picks, past their prime players and a step-back jump shooting German. Yet, they just win. Meanwhile, the Hornets lost their best defender in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and are allowing the same number of points per 100 possessions on defense they did last year.
TV Viewing Tip: Reminisce on the 2011 Finals when the Mavs beat the Heat. I do not think that championship is appreciated enough. They beat a Heat team with Lebron, Wade and Bosh all in their primes! Their defensive scheme broke Lebron during that series and it continues to amaze me.
Big Question: Do the Mavs have a long-term plan? Since 2011, the plan has been to maintain salary cap flexibility to chase free agents. On the whole, that plan has failed. The Mavs will not have their first round pick this year. Where do they go from here to avoid the Grizzlies fate of winning but never contending? Concurrently, the Hornets are under an ownership imperative to make the playoffs this year. That demand played a part in the Hornets reportedly turning down four first round picks (!!) for the 9th pick in the 2015 Draft, which they used on Frank Kaminsky. Is there a vision for the franchise?
New Orleans Pelicans: 11 Wins – 23 Losses & Washington Wizards: 15 Wins – 18 Losses
Scouting Report: I put these teams together because they are both massively underperforming yet each possess a top player in the league: Anthony Davis (New Orleans) and John Wall (Washington). Outside of Davis, the Pelicans have close to nothing: Omer Asik is strangely unplayable against competent teams, forward Ryan Anderson is impossible to build an NBA defense with and the guards are always injured or on minutes restrictions. Meanwhile, Washington has completely revamped their style to an up-tempo system (they are currently fifth in possessions per game) at the cost of their defense. That said, Davis and Wall project to be two of the league’s best players for the next decade. Hope remains.
TV Viewing Tip: Amid the disaster of a roster around him, Davis remains top five in the category of players who make you think “humans can do that?!”
Big Question: How long is Washington willing to wait to see if Bradley Beal can make the leap?
Philadelphia 76ers: 4 Wins – 33 Losses
Scouting Report: The 76ers are the NBA’s greatest experiment. I keep notes on every NBA team and I have more notes on the 76ers than the entire Southeast Division- they are just fascinating. If I am going to criticize Memphis for winning without contending, I must applaud Philly. Everything they do, tanking* for top picks and hoarding draft assets, is an attempt to acquire a legit NBA star. And NBA stars are how you win titles. This year alone, the 76ers will likely have three (maybe four) first round draft picks. That’s their version of “at least we have this one thing”. Yet, how much longer can their tanking go on? Then the counter becomes Philly is so deep in this tanking strategy that they cannot pivot out of it. With that said, there are ways they can handle the tanking better. Player development has become a problem in Philly. For a team built to fail this is not a surprise but it is a problem. The 76ers need to find a point guard capable of getting the ball to their young players (Okafor, Noel, Grant, and Covington) in positions where they can succeed.
*I define tanking is putting a team together with a goal not centered on winning as much as possible.
TV Viewing Tip: Don’t watch. Instead, do some research on the contracts the 76ers give to second round draft picks. They are four year deals laden with non-guaranteed seasons that provide a false sense of security to players and leverage young players in ways that other teams just do not. I personally find them disgusting.
Big Question: Will Philly’s owners stay patient long enough to see through the massive rebuilding job they originally okayed?
Houston Rockets: 17 Wins – 19 Losses
Scouting Report: The Rockets are the Chipotle of the NBA. In a comically short period of time they have lost the trust of people everywhere. The Ty Lawson experiment has failed. Dwight Howard still cannot post up. Even James Harden, who had a legit case for being better than Steph Curry last season, is struggling. Houston is an odd fit for the “at least we’ve got this one thing” category but they have been too bad to rate any higher. Their own coach said they have been “disrespecting the game.” There are a couple positives: 21 year-old big man Clint Capella has been really good and Harden is very slowly emerging from his slump.
TV Viewing Tip: Most NBA defensive breakdowns are hard to identify in the flow of play. This is not the case for the Rockets as you can very clearly see their lackadaisical transition defense. [Editor’s note: and back cuts- the depleted Warriors beat them almost entirely with back cuts and transition buckets. – DL] Watch for this and you will understand why their coach thinks they’ve been disrespecting the game.
Big Question: What happens at the trade deadline? Houston has been looking to trade Lawson and the cap space to take on a big player. Expect many news updates on “the latest from Houston” during the deadline.